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Time to plug into new technology

Hilary Cookson hopes a new computer strategy will help her target customers more effectively

Having spent my early years earning the title of 'geek' or 'nerd' as far as a love of gadgetry was concerned, I've found that the world has now overtaken me in the blink of an Apple Mac. I like to remind myself that I am indeed a bricks and mortar retailer who needs a customer in front of her to hand over filthy notes as part of the perfect transaction. But I recognise that this is receding fast - I need to dig out that anorak.

Today I sit in front of my new slimline laptop with a keyboard so ergonomically designed that the backspace key is the one I use most (I keep missing all the keys). I have spent the day preparing a slide show, taking digital photos of my store, windows and stock, and overlaying it with music, titles and information. This has then been emailed to potential customers who want more details about the store, because I find the written or spoken word cannot convey size.

We are also looking into footfall monitoring. We have a new computer and telephone system, and have only just realised that the information generated by each of these systems can be linked to each other to provide us with more information than we imagined possible.

However, I am setting manageable targets and objectives to hopefully avoid being so bogged down in data that we never do anything with it.

So what do I want to do? Do I want to find new customers, do I want my existing customers to come back more often, or do I want the customers I have to spend more? This may sound simple, and the obvious answer is all three. But they all require different efforts in terms of marketing and training.

I think we often try to achieve too much and over-egg the pudding. We try to make ads too general or special events too all-encompassing, when in fact targeting specially selected customers gives far better results. My challenge for autumn is therefore to only promise what that particular customer wants - and to clearly identify her needs.

The footfall monitor will be exciting because we will be able to track shopper patterns hourly around the store and gather data about what customers do when inside our hallowed portals. This will help us to look at staffing levels and make savings where necessary, ensuring we have the right people in the right place at the right time.

Trade is fine, so why are we interested in this level of detail? Personally, I have reached that stage of middle age when I can't deal with probability or chance. (Or maybe it just took me until middle age to pick up that nugget of wisdom.) I want facts, I want to implement change, and I want to see results.

There is a wonderful phrase: "If you don't know the destination, you can't begin the journey", and it's so true. My road may meander, but we are clearly focused on where we are aiming.

As this season draws toward a close and autumn sits ripe for the picking, I want to ensure that every penny spent promoting my business is targeting the right customer. Therefore my focus for next season is to persuade existing customers to spend more, while I work out how to find new ones.

- Hilary Cookson owns womenswear store Maureen Cookson in Whalley, Lancashire.

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